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Saturday, June 18, 2016

For my father

Tomorrow is Father's Day.  It is one of those made-up holidays,  a guilt-inducing, greeting card industry sham.  I have always told my four kids not to worry about it - I don't need special attention on the third Sunday in June.  But it can be useful to reflect on your origins, so that is how I use both Mother's Day and Father's Day.

My father, Al Gillock, died over 25 years ago.  My two youngest kids never met their paternal grandfather. The internet was not up and running in 1991, but I decided to Google my dad's name to see what popped up. One of the items that was in the search results was a document called "San Leandro Shoreline History."  San Leandro was the town in the San Francisco Bay Area that was our home.  My father was active in the community, particularly when it came to the town's parks and recreational facilities. The picture above was in the San Leandro Shoreline History document, and my dad is in it. He is the guy with his hands in his pockets on the far left.  I was about 12 years old when this picture was taken; Dad was 52.  When I looked at the photo, I was surprised to see how trim Dad looked in 1966. I remember him from his later years, when I was in high school and college - he grew a beach ball stomach and did not take care of his physical health.  His lack of fitness was a motivating force in my life - I vowed not to become an old pot-bellied guy like my father, and that is the primary reason I drag my 61-year old butt out of bed at 5AM to hit the gym.  My dad was born and raised in the south in the 20's and 30's  - you can guess what that means (**cough--racist--cough**). I made it a point to settle in an integrated community;  my son-in-law is black - and I love him.

Fathers have an impact - we try to emulate them, or be as unlike them as possible.

There were other crumbs of information that came up in the Google search:

Born:  November 4, 1914 (World War I was in full swing, and the famous "Battle of the Bees" was fought on November 4, 1914).
Died: April 14, 1991
Place of Death:  Alameda CA, USA
Birthplace:  Tennessee
Gender: Male
Mother's Maiden Name: Yeargin
Education: 1 year of college (Southern Methodist University, I think; he dropped out to join the Army)
Military Service: Serial Number #3804354, enlisted March 12, 1941 (9 months before Pearl Harbor)
Professon: Salesperson (He actually spent most of his work life as a clerk in a canned food company warehouse in Oakland CA)
Social Security Number:  409-01-4709 from Social Security Death Master File

Al Gillock was a mystery to his youngest son.  He didn't talk to me much about his past or hopes for his future.  He was out in the evenings quite frequently - at various community board meetings, city council meetings, etc.  He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish, had a mild heart attack in his late 50's and gave up both habits overnight (that is when he gained weight, I think).  I don't remember him tossing a baseball with me or doing all the little things that dads do with their kids.  He wasn't particularly successful in his career.  He was diagnosed with "manic depression" (now known as bipolar disorder) and went on disability when I was around 18 years old.

He did the best he could.

He was a gentle person and I don't think he ever spanked or struck me (if he did, I don't remember).  His mother died when he was young; I think that was the trauma that led to his mental health issues.  When Dad died, I was stunned by the size of the crowd that showed up to pay their respects at the funeral.  There was much about my father that was unknown to me.  I did know that he loved to collect coins, and he very much wanted to pass his collection down to me when he died.  During my recent divorce, my ex-wife got her hands on Dad's coin collection and sold most of it.  I am glad that my father did not live long enough to experience that little drama.

I have worked hard not to be like my dad, but he is part of me.  I look like the old man, I have his goofy sense of humor and I, too, used to drink like a fish on occasion.  I had negative feelings about my father, but those are all gone now.  He gave me my life.  I am sure that his life was a hard battle for him.

It has taken a long time, but I honor my father, at last.

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